Biz tips at farm conference

LYNNWOOD — Snohomish County is set to host a conference on Thursday at the Lynnwood Convention Center to help local farmers network, learn new strategies and boost their business.

County officials hope the fourth annual Focus on Farming conference will attract about 600 people. The all-day conference will feature national agriculture experts, a wine-and-cheese tasting, and a lunch made of local produce.

“It helps Snohomish County maintain a competitive edge throughout the region,” Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon said, adding that the county continues to streamline regulatory hurdles to help farmers succeed, Reardon said.

The first conference held in Monroe in 2004 drew more than 300 people. The county moved the event to Lynnwood in 2006 in hopes to draw more people.

This year, speakers include U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., and Charles Kuperus, New Jersey’s Agriculture Secretary. The conference will cover topics such as biodiesel and merchandising.

The conference is expected to cost about $15,000 this year, which should be covered by sponsorships, vendor fees and tickets sales, said Laura McLeod, spokeswoman for the county.

The event also will give the opportunity for busy farmers to get together and brainstorm ideas, said Barb Bailey. The Bailey family has farmed in the Snohomish River Valley for decades.

Like many Snohomish County farmers, the Bailey family once ran a dairy farm. But low milk prices shut down the dairy in the 1990s. Now the family sells compost, grows corn and vegetable seed, and raises heifers on their 400-acre farm.

Farmers need to diversify their business, Bailey said.

“It’s survival,” she said.

Farmland has been disappearing in Snohomish County, where a rapid growth continues to bring new people and development.

About 63,000 acres are designated as farmland in the county. Only about half of that area is being used for agricultural purposes, according to a study the county released earlier this year.

Actual farming such as raising cattle and crops is taking place on 33,110 acres of that land. The rest is not being farmed for several reasons. Much of the farmland in floodplains is too wet to farm.

Meanwhile, the conference seems to be drawing new people. Anne and Elizabeth Bailey plan to attend the conference for the first time with their parents, Don and Barb Bailey, and their grandfather Cliff Bailey.

Farming is a big part of her life, said Anne Bailey, 23, who graduated from Gonzaga University in 2006 with a degree in business administration. She grew up working at vegetable stands at the family’s farm.

“It’s what I know. It’s what I enjoy,” she said.

Cliff Bailey recently received a lifetime achievement award from the Cascade Land Conservancy for his efforts to preserve farmland. Bailey said he is 81 years old, but still has a lot to learn about agriculture.

“I find the conference inspiring because they talk about new developments in farming,” he said.

Reporter Yoshiaki Nohara: 425-339-3029 or

If you go

Snohomish County is set to have its fourth annual Focus on Farming conference at 8 a.m. Thursday at the Lynnwood Convention Center, 3711 196th St. SW, Lynnwood.

The conference will feature agriculture experts, breakout sessions on various subjects, and a lunch prepared by regional chefs using local farm products.

The cost is $40 at the door. For more information, contact Laura McLeod at Snohomish County at 425-388-6465 or go to

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